Quebec mulls breast milk bank aimed at helping premature babies

Jordana Divon
Shine On

Alicia Richman, do you do international takeout?

While the Texas mother may have shattered world records for donating breast milk (86.8 gallons alone last year) south of the border, a Quebec provincial blood services agency is hoping local mothers will queue up to offer their own 100-mile baby food.

As the Canadian Press reports, Héma-Québec is eager to start the province’s first breast milk bank, a resource that is aimed with particular attention toward premature babies who health experts say run the risk of increased health problems if they don’t receive mother’s milk.

If the bill gets passed in legislature, it will set the gears in motion for Quebec to launch the breast milk bank, which would be unique because it would be run by a public service that already exists.

The agency’s president, Dr. Jean De Serres, says there are approximately 1,000 premature babies born in Quebec each year and between three and 10 will die from complications.

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This is one of the reasons Héma-Québec has proposed a bill to incorporate a breast milk bank into their agency. In the meantime, they’ve been busy perfecting the administrative tasks required for such a task.

“We have been solicited since milk is a human product and we have developed techniques for collecting such products in the best manner possible,” says Dr. Marc Germain, Héma-Québec’s vice president of Medical Affairs, in a press release.

“Although the risks of transmitting an infection through breast milk are less significant, they still exist. Therefore, there is a risk to be mitigated and we have experience in this area.”

Women solicited by the agency would pump their milk at home into airtight containers and put it in the freezer. Héma-Québec staff would then collect the milk and transfer it to their various facilities around the province where it would be pasteurized for sanitary purposes.

Donors would also be tested to ensure their product is illness and virus free.

Mothers who, for whatever reason, can’t provide their newborns with milk would be welcome to use the bank’s resources.

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De Serres tells CBC that the breast milk bank would provide a safer alternative for mothers who may go looking elsewhere – like eBay – for breast milk.

“It’s the best choice, and it’s better than the current situation," he says.

If approved, the breast milk bank would be the fourth of its kind in Canada. Private banks Calgary Mothers' Milk Bank and the B.C. Women's Hospital and Health Centre have already been handing out bags of milk for several years, while Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank in Toronto is currently in the works.